Home | News    Monday 22 August 2005

UNHCR chief visits Sudan, calling international community for stronger effort

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Aug 22, 2005 (Khartoum) — The United Nations refugee chief was due to visit Sudan on Monday to assess the fate of millions of displaced civilians in war-torn Darfur and the recently pacified south of the country.

Antonio Guterres, starting a 10-day tour that will also take him to Chad and Kenya, voiced his concern ahead of his arrival that the world community was ignoring conflicts in Africa such as those in Sudan.

"It is obvious that there should have been a much stronger effort on the part of the international community to create the conditions for peace but Africa is a continent which is largely forgotten," the former Portuguese prime minister told Lisbon radio.

"We see that the international community mobilises easily in other parts of the world but when it comes to Africa there has been a systematic negligence which has prolonged conflicts like this one (Sudan) and gave rise to a serious food crisis in Niger," he added.

"There is a question of the world’s responsibility towards Africa which needs to be taken seriously."

In Sudan on Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is scheduled to meet President Omar al-Beshir, Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail and other officials.

He is expected to tour camps in Darfur, a western region home to hundreds of thousands of internally-displaced people and still plagued by smouldering violence two and a half years after a deadly rebellion broke out.

The uprising by the black African minority was fiercely repressed by Beshir’s Arab Muslim regime and its proxy militias, aggravating a dire huminatarian crisis.

According to varying estimates, between 180,000 and 300,000 have been killed in Darfur since February 2003 and more than two million displaced.

Guterres will also visit two of the 12 camps in neighbouring Chad that house 200,000 refugees from Darfur who fled the conflict and famine.

Despite a drop in the intensity of the fighting since last year, the people of Darfur have continued to flock to refugee camps where they often find better living conditions that in their home villages.

The three Darfur provinces make up a territory the size of France where a small African Union contingent has been struggling to maintain peace.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special representative in Sudan, Jan Pronk, nonetheless said last week that Darfur was "much more stable than before" and that ceasefire violations were decreasing.

There are close to 10,000 aid workers in Darfur and thousands of others operating in south Sudan, which is also facing a major humanitarian crisis.

Guterres is also planning to visit southern Sudan next week to assess plans to repatriate about 500,000 refugees and about 4.6 million displaced people after the end of the 21-year civil war in the area.

The mainly Christian south’s historic rebel leader and recently appointed first vice president John Garang was killed on July 30 in a helicopter crash near the border with Uganda.

Suspicion among angry southerners that the crash was not an accident triggered deadly riots in Khartoum and threatened to wreck a January north-south peace deal.

The refugee commissioner is then scheduled to fly to Kenya, which runs the humanitarian operation for south Sudan and also hosts around 65,000 Sudanese refugees.

Tens of thousands of refugees are also spread across other neighbouring countries such as Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

AFP / ST

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